Is leadership in your organization’s DNA?  Jill Griffin
August 30, 2016

Great leaders and great organizations don’t just happen.

I have had the opportunity to work and consult at high levels in the upper echelons of corporations, and I’ve been on the board of Luby’s/Fuddruckers since 2003. I can tell you unequivocally that I wouldn’t have gotten there without being mentored by men; men who did not see my success as a threat; men who placed the well-being of their organizations ahead of their own interests; unselfish people, all.

But there’s more: Mentoring was in the DNA of those organizations, and both I and the organization were benefactors.

If you want to build one of those organizations that are growing great leaders, here is a good place to start: It’s a formula that I have found for leadership success, a template if you will. It goes like this:

Purpose + passionate expertise + fearless work + visibility + recognition = leadership opportunities

Though I have never seen it officially put into this form, I know that it exists because I have seen it work in my own professional life. And, now I am experiencing it all over again and, in a way, living it vicariously through others as I interview top women leaders and write their stories in my new book, “Women Make Great Leaders.”

So, how does this formula and each of these elements play out in the everyday workings of a vibrant organization? Let’s take a look.


The late Don Clifton, the inventor of the Gallup StrengthsFinder, was fond of saying, “Every one of us can do at least one thing better than 10,000 other people. That’s the good news. The bad news? Most people have no idea what that one thing is.”

The best organizations are deliberate and on-purpose about helping their people find their sweet spot, the thing(s) they do better than 10,000 other people. This takes time and effort. You can’t do this and just fill open roles with people without thinking about their purpose, their ‘why’ and their unique talents. Just think how much better organizations would be if people were in their strengths zone.

Passionate expertise

Your people should know what they love to do. If they don’t, then by all means help them find it. When they do, you’ll see a spark and great work will follow. It’s near impossible to be passionate when you are just killing time. But when you are doing something you love and it loves you back, time flies and excellence is the outcome.

Fearless work

As you can see, all of the elements of the formula strongly interconnect. People who have found their purpose and passion can’t stand on the sidelines while bad things happen in their organization. They are almost duty-bound to champion the causes that make their workplace better in every way. They are also willing to step into the gap and fill roles and do extra things until help comes along. And, they do all of this, not primarily because somebody is paying them to do it, but because they can’t not do it.

Wouldn’t you love to have a team of those people in leadership in your organization?


Visibility is critical. You can do stellar work, but if it’s not visible, it can’t take you anywhere. But here’s the rub with public roles: there is always the possibility of very public failure.

Again, see how the formula works? People who have found their purpose, are exercising their passionate expertise, and are doing fearless work are, well, unafraid to step into those difficult but potentially rewarding roles. They have mentors and champions who have their best interest at heart and who really know them.

Those people wouldn’t intentionally send their mentee into trouble, would they? Not if all of this is part of the fabric of leadership. They’ll know better, and there will be a bond of trust that will give individuals the courage they need to take on difficult and very public tasks. Walking on the high wire is a lot less daunting when you have a safety net.


Everybody loves a pat on the back for a job well done. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen often enough in most organizations.

Recognition should be systematic and sincere. Objective measurements should be in place to determine success or failure, and success should be openly rewarded on a regular basis.

Teach this formula in your training sessions and classrooms. Be intentional, and give leaders permission to find other potentially great leaders in your organization and give them a leg up. Encourage it and talk about it often.

If you do, you’ll find that success is not a zero-sum game, as it turns out.


Jill Griffin is an independent public board director; internationally published Harvard “Working Knowledge” author; and global thought-leader on customer loyalty. She is passionate about bringing more diversity to the corporate board room. Since 2003, Griffin has served as board director for Luby’s/Fuddruckers Restaurants.

She is a distinguished alumnus and philanthropist for the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business, where she earned her bachelor of science in business (magna cum laude) and MBA degrees. She served on the Board of Trustees for nine years. Her book “Customer Loyalty” has been published in eight languages. Two awarding-winning books followed: “Customer Winback” and “Taming the Search-and-Switch Customer.” Her most recent book is “Earn Your Seat on a Corporate Board.”

What Kids Wish Their Teachers Knew

When Kyle Schwartz started teaching third grade at Doull Elementary School in Denver, she wanted to get to know her students better. She asked them to finish the sentence “I wish my teacher knew.”


The responses were eye-opening for Ms. Schwartz. Some children were struggling with poverty (“I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home to do my homework”); an absent parent (“I wish my teacher knew that sometimes my reading log is not signed because my mom isn’t around a lot”); and a parent taken away (“I wish my teacher knew how much I miss my dad because he got deported to Mexico when I was 3 years old and I haven’t seen him in six years”).


The lesson spurred Ms. Schwartz, now entering her fifth teaching year, to really understand what her students were facing outside the classroom to help them succeed at school. When she shared the lesson last year with others, it became a sensation, with the Twitter hashtag “#iwishmyteacherknew” going viral. Other teachers tried the exercise and had similar insights. Many sent her their students’ responses.


In her recently published book, “I Wish My Teacher Knew: How One Question Can Change Everything For Our Kids,” Ms. Schwartz details how essential it is for teachers and families to be partners.


“I really want families to know how intentional teachers are about creating a sense of community and creating relationships with kids,” Ms. Schwartz said. “Kids don’t learn when they don’t feel safe or valued.”


Melody Molinoff of Washington, D.C., who has two sons, ages 9 and 11, in the public school system, agreed.


“Parents see the teacher as their partner in bringing up their child, and that’s a huge responsibility that we are putting on our teachers and our schools,” Ms. Molinoff said. “I always want my sons’ teachers to know what their challenges are, what they like, just more about them.”


Mary Clayman, a fourth-grade teacher in the Washington public schools, said she has noticed the same thing from the other side of the desk.


“I’ve taught over 500 kids so far in my career and parents in every grade want to know how their child is doing socially and emotionally, often times more so than whether they can multiply or divide quite yet,” Mrs. Clayman said.


In her book, Ms. Schwartz writes about mistakes that might have been prevented if she had known her students better. She had a student named Chris who was obsessed with science. Ms. Schwartz thought she had done Chris a huge favor by securing a spot for him in a science-focused summer camp. But she was unaware of the family’s financial struggles and it turned out that his parents could not afford to take time off from work to get Chris to camp.

Ms. Schwartz said classrooms can become a supportive environment for students coping with grief. She suggests that schools have “grief and loss” inventories for students who have gone through a crisis, with input from families so that the child’s future teachers know what that student is dealing with.

“As teachers, we know parents are the first and best teachers for their children and we want them to work with us,” she said.